TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Re: Sid Ceasar and Phones in Comedy

Re: Sid Ceasar and Phones in Comedy

Al Gillis (
Wed, 7 Sep 2005 20:31:15 -0700

<> wrote in message

> My local PBS showed clips from old shows. The telephone figured in
> some of them.

> In one clip, the group got into an argument over the names of the
> Seven Dwarfs from Snow White. One man makes a few phone calls to ask
> around. He dialed 5 or 6 digits, but spun the dial very quickly, not
> letting it properly return. The man then made another call, this time
> dialing only three digits. "Long Distance? Get me Walt Disney in
> Hollywood!". The man repeatedly emphasizes he's spending $3 on long
> distance to find out the info ($3 was maybe $30-$40 today). He gets
> Walt Disney on the phone (who didn't know the answer), and mentioned
> again he was calling long distance for $3.

> The clip was also interesting for the social world it shown. The gang
> was headed out for the evening when they got into this argument. They
> were hollering at each other, and it reminded me of adults of that
> day, which seemed to be hollering at lot more than they do today
> (maybe it was only my world). Also, they were all dressed up very
> nicely -- men in suits, women in nice dresses. Today people go out to
> dinner or a movie in beach clothes; we forget in those days people put
> on a necktie or dress quite often when they left the house.

> Another clip was a monologue about a night on the town. It starts off
> with him calling his girlfriend for a date, and he made exagerated
> sounds of dialing, ringing, etc.

> Those old shows were done live. When something fouled up -- which
> happened often (forgotten lines, prop would fall down -- the actors
> had to be quick and improvise to keep the sketch moving. By today's
> standards the humor could be a little bland and the jokes very old.
> But the shows have a kind of vitality often not seen today. The
> comedy groups were a tight-knit team. They also could be funny
> without resorting to sex or even politics.

> [TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: One of my favorite telephone gags is
> when the person _merely pretends_ to call someone, but actually has
> his finger holding the hook down while he makes a big production of
> dialing then speaking to whomever (only supposedly), and then mid-way
> through the supposed conversation with the supposed person, the phone
> _actually rings_ with a real call coming in, and of course the
> pretender is quite embarassed at being caught in this obvious lie. I
> first saw this routine in an old Jack Benny show from the 1930's, then
> I saw it again in an "I Love Lucy" show. The third time I saw it was
> when John Ritter (in his role as Jack Tripper, on "Three's Company")
> got caught in that lie on one of the "Three's Company" shows. Viewers
> will recall that poor Jack was always getting in some hassle or
> another on that show, and his two female roomates would always have to
> rescue him.

> The odd part was that on the show where Jack got caught 'with his
> finger on the hook while making a call' (because the phone rang), when
> it happened, the audience roared with laughter, poor Jack looked very
> humiliated as always, but on the 'outakes' (not used in the show but
> available on the video of 'outakes' several years later) who should
> walk on the set at that moment but Lucille Ball -- not normally on the
> show except two or three times as a special guest) and she sternly
> said "John, you stole one of my better laughs!" and Ritter replied,
> "but my writers got it from the same guy you did, Jack Benny!". Miss
> Ball gave him a dirty look and stalked off the stage. The audience
> loved it; because the applause for Lucille Ball and the laughter on
> account of the joke went on for so long the producers had to cut it
> out of the tape entirely. You are correct, Lisa, they could tell jokes
> and have funny situations in a clean way on television in years gone
> past. PAT]

Another bit of early TV crazyness happened with Jackie Gleason and Art
Carney. Ralph Cramden (Jackie) had just gotten a new telephone
installed in his apartment. Jackie and Alice were both quite proud of
this new addition to their cold water, walk up flat.

Anyway, Ed Norton (Art) came to the Cramden apartment that evening and
asked to use the telephone. Jackie told his pal, "Sure -- go ahead.
But remember this costs me money for every call". (Jackie had
obviously ordered a measured line). So Ed/Art dials a number, listens
for a while and then hangs up. Then he raises his arm and adjusts the
time on his wristwatch. Jackie/Ralph goes nuts! He berates his pal
for wasting money on a phone call just to find out what time it was!
Norton, in his usual response to Ralph's outbursts, grabs his hat off
his head and dashes out the door!

Maybe I spend to much time in the past, but I miss that old stuff
... no vulgar language, no profanity, no sexual overtones, just funny,
funny stuff! Probably so funny as it mirrored us or our friends so

Thanks, Pat, for bringing this memory to the surface!


[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: You are quite welcome. Did you ever see
any of 'The Honeymooners, Color Episodes' (as they were called), a few
years following the demise of the original 'Honeymooners' series? Both
Jackie Gleason and Art Carney were in it, but different actresses
played their wives. For whatever reason, TVLand does not run that series
and they (TVLand) only occassionally mentions the original Honeymooners
series these days. Do you remember when Jackie Gleason (actually, for
real) broke his leg near the end of one of the shows as part of a gag
he was doing? Normally, Gleason came out at the end of every show to
say goodnight to the audience, but as the final curtain went down, we
see him slip and fall; people begin to realize that this time it was
_not_ a joke, and instead of Gleason coming out to crack his final
joke and say goodnight, someone else came out to do it.

Do you also recall how Honeymooners was _originally_ just a fifteen
minute segment on Jackie Gleason? In addition to Honeymooners, he
had a routine called 'the Poor Soul' and a couple others each week.
Eventually though, Honeymooners began getting 30 minutes of the show
each week, then finally an hour, except for the June Taylor Dancers
who were always the first act. PAT]

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